Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
Publisher: Knopf Canada
ISBN: 978-0-307-39984-7 (0-307-39984-2)
Pub Date: November 1, 2011
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I look across my yard every morning at my parents’ little house. They live fifty feet from me now. I can see their lights go on in the morning and shut off at night. I can see them moving about in the yard when they’re watering plants or cutting wood or when my mother is digging up her flower beds. I watch them and I smile. Sometimes I catch myself wondering what in the world I will do when they are not there anymore. I drink cold water and tell myself to stop being so selfish. I close my eyes tightly and open them again, hoping that my thoughts will be cleared away. They never are completely.
I have fourteen acres of land west of Calgary, not far from where I grew up. Not far from where this story begins. My mother and father met on a blind date in the late fifties, before there were colour TVs and cellphones and CDs and computers and even Spanx, for that matter. My mom’s old friend Freda, who’s now deceased, was determined to set my mother up with her boyfriend’s pal, convincing her that this blind date would be different. Freda told my mom that this guy was funny and smart and had a job, for Pete’s sake! What else could a girl possibly want? Freda didn’t seem to care that my mother kind of already had a boyfriend (though my mother says she never really liked him all that much anyway), and asked what would one little date on a Saturday night hurt anybody? My mother reluctantly agreed to go out with my dad. The rest, as they say . . .
It’s hard to believe that my parents are still together and going strong some fifty-three years later. They have survived things that would have crushed most couples. They persevered where others would have cracked in half. I don’t think I could have done what my mother and father did, and that was to go ever forward with their shoulders back and their jaws set straight and their faith unwavering. Both my parents lasted. They beat the odds. They survived each other, for starters, and that was—and is—no small feat. I don’t know if something was in the water, but not a single one of my friends’ parents divorced either. I thought about that one day and just shook my head. It says a lot about the company I kept and continue to keep all these years later.
My parents are my treasures. They are my secret weapon, my shield, my strength and my faith. Whenever I went off the rails, and that was fairly often as I was figuring out how to be a person, I turned to them for comfort and solace and direction and forgiveness. They were always there for me, always.
I sometimes see my dad standing in the yard. He’s perfectly still and quiet, with his arms resting on his rake, and he’s looking off over the fields. I wonder what he’s thinking about. I wonder if he’s thinking what I am thinking.
I asked him once what it was like getting older, and he told me that he couldn’t feel it and he couldn’t see it in the mirror either. He said he just saw himself the same way he always was. I think about that conversation a lot.
So many things have changed around me, but I still see the same face when I look in the mirror. I know what my dad meant. Living is a process. You plod along and hope you’re on the right road and if you’re not, well, that’s okay too. I know that from experience now.
When I was in my early twenties, I moved out to Vancouver for a few years and managed to get myself into a lot of trouble. Not legal trouble, but emotional and spiritual trouble. I felt so lost and so down and out. I made one mistake after another. I was on some kind of self-destruct mode. Eventually I picked myself up and hosed myself down and ended up, as my mother often says, making something of myself, despite myself. She also says to me, “Thank God you could sing, or who knows where you’d have ended up.” I don’t like to think about that.
Years later I returned to Vancouver for a series of sold-out concerts. It was a giant contrast to the days when I was busking on the streets for a buck or two to buy cigarettes and wine. I couldn’t believe I was there, standing on a beautiful, brightly lit stage, singing my songs for people who had paid to see me. I felt vindicated somehow. I’d survived the stupidity of my youth.
After one of the shows I had the limo driver take me across the Lions Gate Bridge to the North Shore, where I’d gotten myself into so much trouble. I had him drive by my old apartment building on Third Street, where I had lived twenty-five years earlier. It was boarded up, to no one’s surprise—least of all mine. It stood there like a tombstone. The pouring rain added nicely to the movie I was creating in my head. I saw my young self, staggering in drunk through the beat-up front door. I closed my eyes and clearly pictured the old mattress on the floor, the ironing board I used as a kitchen table, my beloved cassette deck. I sat in the car for ten or fifteen minutes with the window down, looking out at the street. The cold rain was spitting at my face.
I won, I thought to myself. I won. I felt a weight lift off my heart. I said a prayer in my head about gratitude and forgiveness, and then I had the driver take me back across the big bridge to my hotel. I lay in my bed that night and thought about how I’d gotten to where I was that day. I fell asleep smiling.
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